Jessica Valenti: Even progressive heroes can rape

Ever since sexual assault allegations surfaced against Wikileaks
founder Julian Assange,
Wikileaks supporters, many who consider
themselves "progressive," "liberal," pro-women's rights," "anti-rape,"
etc. have rallied behind Assange. Many supporters claim Assange was
being set-up by his enemies. Feminist Naomi Wolf blatantly discredited the alleged victims'
while documentary filmmaker Michael Moore called the
allegations "hooey." Even MSNBC host Keith Olbermann laughed off the
allegations. Blogger Sady Doyle called these progressive heroes
out on their ignorance.
Moore eventually responded. Wolf still can't separate the facts from her own
Olbermann on the other hand barely apologized. Had it
not been Doyle, Jaclyn Friedman,'s Kate
and countless activists at the Twitter hashtag #MooreandMe, raising awareness about the
realities of rape survivors would go unnoticed.

Jessica Valenti was another woman who played role in highlighting the myths and
surrounding Assange's rape allegations. Valenti is the
author of three books: Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why
Feminism Matters,
He's a Stud, She's a Slut...and 49 Other Double
Standards Every Woman Should Know,
co-editor of Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power & A
World Without Rape
and The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with
Virginity is Hurting Young Women
and is considered by as
"the poster girl for third-wave feminism."

I caught up with Valenti and we discussed briefly how and why
progressives should support Wikileaks and a fair investigation/trial
for the alleged victims as well as Assange.

A lot has been said about the sexual assault charges against
Julian Assange. Why are many progressives rallying to the defense of
Julian Assange as opposed to the alleged victims?

I think as a culture we tend to think of rapists as obvious bad guys -
like a scary man jumping out of the bushes. When it comes to those on
the Left, the same is true - people don't want to believe that one of
their progressive heroes could ever do something so terrible. But
someone can be a great guy when it comes to politics and still be a
rapist. It's not a zero sum game. As for the alleged victims;
victim-blaming has always been around and I don't think that
progressives are immune to it.

What have been the worst examples so far where the alleged
victims have been discredited by Assange supporters, the media,
progressives, etc.?

I don't think I can bring myself to list the worst! But obviously
there's a lot of lying about the women going on - something that's par
for the course in rape cases.

What's also bothered me is the continued misrepresentation of the
allegations against Assange (oh, it was just a broken condom!) and the
rape laws in Sweden.

I've heard from some progressive-minded Assange supporters
that the timing of Assange's rape charges make this case suspect. Why
is that faulty logic and why is that not an excuse for Assange's
alleged behavior?

There's no doubt that the timing of the charges is politically
motivated - but that doesn't have anything to do with the veracity of
the women's claims. The women brought their charges forward in
August; they have nothing to do with when Sweden decided to act on

Is it conceivable that the government is using sexual violence
charges as well as the alleged victims as a cover-up to go after
someone Assange? I personally find that hard to believe because I've
learned that false sexual assault charges against the accused are
rare. Even rarer are those who lie and stick to their stories. Your

I think if someone wanted to create a cover-up, rape charges would be
the dumbest way to go! They're notoriously hard to prosecute. If
someone wanted to frame Assange, there are much easier ways to do it.

Assange supporters like Naomi Wolf, Michael Moore, and Keith
Olbermann have been heavily criticized for their support of Assange
and their dismissal of the alleged rape victims. One person who seems
to be flying under the radar is Naomi Klein. Recently, Klein tweeted
that "Rape is being used in the #Assange prosecution in the same
way that women's freedom was used to invade Afghanistan. Wake up!
How serious is this claim? How does it hurt the
alleged victims case and how does that comment compromise sexual
assault awareness?

I don't think Klein's tweet was wrong, or that it called into question
the women's claims. Yes, women's freedom was used to invade
Afghanistan - but that didn't mean that women's freedom wasn't a real
issue, it was!

Last question: The sexual assault charges against Julian
Assange may be a teachable moment in promoting rape awareness. What
are the most important things people should take from this case in
relation to sexual assault awareness and what many alleged victims

I think this case goes to show how far we have to go, culturally and
legislatively, in battling rape culture. The victim-blaming, the
smearing and the dismissiveness really shine a light on how backwards
our thinking on rape is.

2011-01-02-jessica_valenti.jpg2011-01-03-yes_means_yes.jpegJessica Valenti (via Google Pics)